Councils grab millions meant for the disabled
MILLIONS of pounds intended to help disabled children has "disappeared" into council funding pots rather than being spent on support and services, Scotland on Sunday has learned.
Scottish charities say there has been no improvement in services for disabled children from a 34 million windfall sent north of the Border as part of a UK government scheme to fund respite breaks for parents and additional equipment for vulnerable young people.
Organisations including Barnardos and Aberlour say virtually none of the money has been spent on what it was meant for because of the local government concordat, which ended ring-fencing of council funding.
The extra cash has been being used by local authorities to meet other budget pressures instead, the charities said.
The Aiming High for Disabled Children strategy was launched in 2007 with 340m of UK government money for improving child care and providing respite breaks for people with disabled youngsters.
In England, the money also funded improvements in palliative care, improved access to specialist services and wider availability of equipment.
The funding triggered 34m of "Barnett consequentials", part of the block grant that funds the Scottish budget.
Scotland on Sunday has learned the money was included in the Scottish Government's block grant in three tranches of around 11.3m, two of which have already been paid to councils with a further one in this year's round of grants.
Most Scottish councils cannot confirm whether this money has been received or where the extra has been spent.
Freedom of Information requests by children's charities has been met with insistence the concordat meant councils were not compelled to set aside any extra funding for specific services. Mostly, local authorities say the money has been swallowed up by the general funding budget.
The charities' coalition - which has 56 members - has calculated the share of the money sent to councils and the share they would get this year. According to these figures, Glasgow City Council will have been given an extra 4.3m over three years, Edinburgh 2.8m and Fife 2.2m. At the same time, Scottish Government data shows respite care provided by councils for young people fell by 1,120 weeks to 22,830 weeks between 2008 and 2009.
The coalition, for Scotland's Disabled Children (fSDC), has now launched a campaign - "We want our missing millions" - to persuade councils to use the last instalment of the money to improve disabled services in line with the UK.
So far, only one council, Highland, has said it is willing to do so.
Alex Cole-Hamilton, head of policy at Aberlour, said: "The Scottish Government could have kept hold of the money to spend on transforming services and support for disabled children - they chose not to."The government says the money went to local authorities yet they either cannot or will not tell us how they have spent it. It seems like the money has just disappeared."
Local government group Cosla said: "There is no ring-fenced money in the system for this specific purpose."A Scottish Government spokesman said charities had misunderstood "the better arrangements we have in place in Scotland under the concordat". He said: "As Cosla themselves make clear, far more than the 34m is devoted to support for disabled children across Scotland."
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